Some Wonderful Day

My four children bounced into the kitchen from different directions as I dropped groceries and mail onto the counter. “Hey guys, any more gifts under the tree?” I teased. Reaching to pick up my youngest child, my eye caught the corner of a red envelope postmarked from Newfoundland. Tearing it open I pulled out a card with a photograph of a snowy outport on the front and a message written in precise penmanship on the inside.

Happy Christmas! I wanted you to know that Cyril died this past year. With the help of the Lord we are at peace with his passing. Muriel.

“Cyril? Muriel?” I pondered. Then it hit me like a wave. Ten years before, when I was a Clinical Clerk, Cyril was the man who had taken me out on his fishing trawler to spend a day at sea.

“Where is that? “ My five year old daughter asked, pointing to the card.

“That’s Baie Verte. It’s in Newfoundland. I worked there when I was a student doctor…. before you were born,” I answered.

“It looks like the houses are on rocks!” She marveled.

“You’re right they are,” I said. “You know, when I first arrived, it looked so different to me—I thought I was on the moon!” That afternoon, folding the children’s laundry fresh out of the dryer, memories set in like a Newfoundland fog.

I first met Cyril in the Baie Verte Hospital. He was tall with grey hair and had that weathered look that comes with working on the sea. His smile was friendly and his handshake held purpose. “I hears you want to go fishing?” Cyril asked, not caring why a Medical Student from Toronto would be so interested. “We start early, much too early to drive out from here. Come to the house Sunday. You’ll get a good night’s sleep and be ready to go.” I hid my trepidation and accepted immediately.

My wake up call came at two AM in Cyril and Muriel’s cozy home. By three AM we were heading out of a tiny cove and onto the open sea. The sky was black and it drizzled. The pitch and roll of the boat intensified and I couldn’t help but remember Muriel’s delicious home-made Sunday dinner from the night before. I didn’t want it to end up on the deck!

“She’ll not be doctoring today,” Cyril joked after introducing me. The men politely greeted me showing no bewilderment at having a young woman, a CFA* and a doctor on board for the day.

“You’ll be drier down below,” Cyril said, pointing to the cabin where most of the crew had already settled. The smell of percolating coffee welcomed me as I opened the door. I listened intently, deciphering accents, as the men bantered back and forth. I hoped to catch some clues of what lay ahead.

“There’s some wind a blowin‘ today, she’ll be rough!” I heard someone say. “Oh no,” I thought, my stomach dropping, “Where did I get this bright idea from?”

My weekly visits to the outport clinics introduced me to the sea. These tiny communities kept me busy providing much needed medical care but when I could I set out exploring on foot. The cemeteries were a favourite stop. The headstones faced the sea and the inscriptions told the story of the port. Without fail I would end up down at the dock when the boats returned from sea. Their faithful routine fascinated me. It was here that I knew I couldn’t leave Newfoundland without going out on a trawler.

Thanks to Cyril, that’s exactly where I found myself on that early morning.

After several hours, the dawn finally broke and light filled the sky. I looked back over the stern of the boat to see the shores of Newfoundland far off in the horizon. “How far away are we?” I asked. “It’s a ways!” I was told. The engine shifted to idle and I watched the boat come to life with activity.

“It’s some weather out there. You’ll be drier in here,” one man suggested. They laughed when I refused and jumped up to join them.

“I be thinkin’ she’s not for that,” another man said.

“You’re right— I’m here to fish,” I declared as I put on my boots and raincoat.

The deck was slippery from the falling mist. Patiently, the men showed me how to prepare the nets. “That’s right, pull it down this way, lay it flat and now back the other way,” they instructed. The nets were long and heavy, filling most of the deck. Their amusement dissipated the harder I worked alongside them.

“Ay Cyril, she’s a worker this one!”

“First time we be seein’ a doctor workin’ like this and a woman at that.”

Without any of their usual good humour, I was told to be careful of the nets. “Many a Newfie fisherman’s lost his life in them nets!” Cyril explained.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“If ya gets your foot caught it’ll drag you to the bottom like a stone!”

The thought was terrifying and it still is. When the nets were ready, the weighted end was thrown over the stern. It sounded like thunder and the boat shook as well as pitched in the sea. “You be fishin’ now!” I heard.

It wasn’t long until the first nets came up thick with fish. “Wow, look at all those fish,” I shouted as they dropped into the hold of the boat. “I’ll never look at a fish counter the same again.” I marveled aloud. The whole day was about nets and fish. I never tired of it.

Even lunch was about fish. When told it was ready, I quickly headed below and crowded around the table for the best cod I had ever had.

“Put the hard biscuit in the warm milk and soak it up.”

“This is so good,” I said.

“It’s some good,” they corrected. This cod delicacy was Traditional Fisherman’s Brewis— gourmet dining at sea!

The trip back to the Cove was breathtaking! Activity on board had subsided, the sea was calmer and the swell was gentler. Only the thrum of the engine and the occasional bird accompanied us back to port as the sun fell lower into the sky.

The hospital in Baie Verte gave me many great experiences but it was the outports that bestowed the unique experience of Newfoundland I am privileged to have. That day at sea was, as the Newfoundlanders would say, “some wonderful day”. I was so grateful to Cyril for the opportunity.

My experience with those men enriched my remaining time in Newfoundland in a way that is difficult to express. Upon reflection, it has lingered with me throughout my years of Family Practice.

Only now, surrounded by my children, the laundry and Muriel’s Christmas card, did I consider what this day might have meant to Cyril. His widow knew. Her card in some small way brought closure to his life and her grief and it included me.

I was honoured.

*CFA – Come From Away

Theme: Community | Communauté
Theme: Death and Dying | Décès et le mourir
Theme: Patients | Patients , Relationships | Relations
Theme: Teaching and Learning | Enseignement et apprentissage

Stories in Family Medicine | Récits en médecine familiale [Internet] Mississauga ON: College of Family Physicians of Canada. 2008 --.

Copyright © 1996-2018 The College of Family Physicians of Canada